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Obituary for William “Bill” F Hanson

Just as Epaminondas’s rustic Thebans had outshone their purportedly professional Arcadian allies and terrified the crack troops of Sparta, so too Sherman’s Westerners, who had routed or bypassed all veteran Southern forces, also made the well-drilled and veteran Army of the Potomac look in comparison somewhat soft. For Sherman’s men, the spring parade was just another — simply the last — day on the long march; but for Grant’s troopers the ceremonial procession was something mole on my buttocks quite unlike the months of crawling and digging in the mud of Virginia. Other observers that May afternoon at once perceived the Westerners’ army’s incongruous ferocity and recklessness beneath its veneer of seeming order and precision. On the following day, May 24, the New York Times described Sherman’s army as “tall, erect, broad shouldered men, the peasantry of the west, the best material on earth for armies. The brigades move by with an elastic step.”

William was Chief Agent when Piedmont Airlines took another giant step by centralizing their Reservations processes in 1970. He was transferred to Winston-Salem, NC, in May 1970 as a Shift Manager in the new Center. The Center was temporarily housed in the old Fabric Shop on the second floor of the large Hanger across Liberty Street from the Airport proper.

You were all lucky, he went on, once to have had angry men like LeMay and us in the air. We flew into the fire, he said, because we believed that we were saving more lives than we took. As he aged, all memories — childhood, job, family — receded as the recollection of those nights over Tokyo grew sharper; parties, vacations, and familial holiday festivities were to become sideshows compared to annual reunions with his 313th Bomber Wing and 398th Squadron. His last hallucinatory gasps of July 1998 in death’s throes were a foreign vocabulary of B-29 operations and frantic calls to crew members, most of whom were long since dead. A little more than a year after his enlistment, on March 9, 1945, a 400-mile-long trail of 334 B-29s left their Marianas bases, 3,500 newly trained airmen crammed in among the napalm. The gigantic planes each carried ten tons of the newly invented jellied gasoline incendiaries.

The greatest army in the history of conflict until the late nineteenth century was Sherman’s, and yet it disappeared literally within a few days of the armistice; in May 1945, Patton’s Third Army numbered over a half million, but by Christmas both its veterans and its general were gone. Theban hoplites, Union troops, and American GIs, this book argues, were ideological armies foremost, composed of citizen-soldiers who burst into their enemies’ heartland because they believed it was a just and very necessary thing to do. The commanders who led them encouraged that ethical zeal, made them believe there was a real moral difference between Theban democracy and Spartan helotage, between a free Union and a slave-owning South, and between a democratic Europe and a nightmarish Nazi continent. This study is more an essay on the ethical nature of democracies at war than a purely military history of three epic marches for freedom, for it claims that on rare occasions throughout the ages there can be a soul, not merely a spirit, in the way men battle. As in the advance of Epaminondas into the Peloponnese, Sherman fought few decisive engagements, but in a matter of weeks left a military culture in ruins, as no Georgian army dared meet him in pitched battle — as no Spartan phalanx had braved Epaminondas. To paraphrase Napoleon, Sherman, like Epaminondas, had “destroyed the enemy merely by marches” in a classical display of the indirect approach around rather than directly against the enemy’s armies.

Eighty years after Sherman reached Savannah, General George S. Patton officially took command of the newly formed Third Army on August 1, 1944, a few weeks after the Allied invasion of Normandy. When Patton arrived in Normandy, the Allied armies of General Eisenhower were just beginning to break out from nearly six weeks in the hedgerows of western France. The German army in Western Europe was still a formidable occupying force of over a million men. General Montgomery was calling for a slow American sweep, as he requested the lion’s share of Allied supplies to thrust through Holland. Only with ever more men and supplies that would at last ensure material superiority could the Allies, Montgomery thought, press on a single narrow front into Germany, perhaps crossing the Rhine in winter or spring 1946.